Balloon Fiesta is a not-to-missed event for all Albuquerque families (and visitors, of course). But bringing kids to Balloon Fiesta can be a big undertaking. No worries though! There are certainly some things we can do to make it easier on ourselves.
We’d like to thank Manzano Day School for sponsoring this Guide to Balloon Fiesta.
Manzano Day School is dedicated to innovative child-centered education, excellence in teaching, and Joy in Learning® to prepare children for a life of discovery and community involvement in our diverse world. Founded in 1938, Manzano Day School is an independent, nonprofit elementary school for children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The school’s historic six-acre campus borders Old Town and downtown Albuquerque. Get a jump-start on the 2024-2025 academic year by attending Manzano Day School’s Open House on Sunday, October 15, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Prospective parents will learn about Manzano Day School’s core values, how outstanding faculty inspire Joy in Learning® through our curriculum, the one-of-a-kind Fenton Ranch environmental education, and service learning projects, as well as the admission process and financial aid. RSVP here to attend!
The 2023 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place October 7-15, 2023. Make sure to spend some time on the Balloon Fiesta’s website to get even more familiar with the event.
Tickets are $15 per session. Kids under 12 are free.
Parking: Parking can be tricky! If you plan to drive to Balloon Fiesta Park, arrive VERY early (between 4-5 am) or you will get stuck in traffic and miss the balloon launch. Parking is $20 cash per car.
Park & Ride: Avoid congested traffic and parking conditions around Balloon Fiesta Park by using park and ride. Park & Ride buses use expedited routes to avoid the traffic. Note that there are no park & ride services on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of Balloon Fiesta. Learn all about it and purchase park and ride tickets here.
Ride Your Bike: Another way to beat the traffic is to ride your bike to Balloon Fiesta! There’s a bike trail that runs right into Balloon Fiesta Park. There’s even a bike valet. Read all about how to bike to the Fiesta here.
Check out these tips from our contributors all about going to Balloon Fiesta with your little ones.
1. Balloon Glows & Fireworks
Consider going to a Balloon Glow in the evening. The morning launches are spectacular, but if you can’t bring yourself to get up that early with your littles, try a glow. The Special Shapes Glowdeo is always a hit! And don’t forget to stay for the fireworks.
Insider tip: All kinds of toys that light up are for sale as the sun goes down. If you want to save some cash, bring your own glow sticks. Yay for the Dollar Store!
2. Avoid the Crowds If Possible
If your kids aren’t in school yet or you have some flexibility with their schooling, attend Balloon Fiesta early in the week (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday). APS’s fall break is on the Thursday and Friday of Balloon Fiesta, so you can expect those mornings and of course, weekends to be a little more crowded.
3. Safety First When Bringing Kids to Balloon Fiesta
The New Mexico State Police will be at Balloon Fiesta during each session with their TAG YOUR TOTS program. Adults can register their children with the State Police and have a wristband placed on each of their children. If a child who has been separated from his or her parents is found, officials will immediately be able to contact the parents based on the information on the child’s wristband. The TAG YOUR TOTS location is just south of the Main Stage.
4. First Aid
First Aid is located in the Public Safety Building southeast of the Main Stage. If you need assistance, contact any public safety officer.
5. Balloon Trading Cards
Older children might enjoy collecting balloon trading cards. The balloon pilots and crew create trading cards for their balloons that kids can collect. If you’re really into these, go at the beginning of the week because the balloon crews usually run out toward the end of the Fiesta.
6. Ride Your Bike
Have you ever ridden your bike to Balloon Fiesta? Strap the babes on the back of your bike or hook up the bike trailer and avoid the traffic. Balloon Fiesta even has a bike valet to keep your ride safe while you enjoy the festivities. The bike trail runs along the AMAFCA North Diversion Channel, and crosses underneath Paseo del Norte and Alameda Blvd. continuing north where it crosses from the west side to the east, ending just north of the Balloon Museum. Get more details.
7. Buy Tickets Online
Save yourself the hassle of standing in line when you get to Balloon Fiesta Parks and buy tickets online.
8. Bring Cash and Card
There are ATMs at the park but navigating the crowds can be difficult. Be sure you have both options just in case. If you choose to drive to the field and park, the parking fee is $20 and is cash only. Also, some vendors in the park may only accept cash.
9. Pack Snacks
Yes! Snacks are allowed. Each person is allowed only one bag or backpack. And bags are subject to search. No glass or alcohol. Food is available for purchase; however, it is expensive and lines are often long. So keep those babies happy, and bring snacks, drinks, and breakfast along. A thermos of hot chocolate is a great idea too.
10. Wear your child or bring a stroller or wagon.
There will be a lot of walking, so I liked to wear my babies in a carrier to Balloon Fiesta. But some moms recommend a stroller or wagon. (Make sure it has bicycle-type tires because the field can be muddy.) Strollers and wagons can be difficult with the crowds. But they will contain your children and hold all the jackets you will shed as the morning warms up.
11. Dress in Layers
Wear plenty of layers for the cold morning. You will arrive before sun-up and it will be cold. But you’ll be peeling off the jackets soon enough when the sun comes up.
12. Pick a Spot
Pick a spot on the field and settle in instead of walking around from place to place. Lawn chairs are allowed at the park as are blankets. If you have little kids it might be easiest to settle into a spot and take it all in from there. The field is marked as a grid (letters on one axis and numbers on the other). Tell big kids your grid letter/number so they can find you if you get separated. (Or if you choose not to sit and watch, choose a prominent location as a meeting spot just in case.)
13. Listen to the Zebras
Be respectful of the people in the striped shirts as they are the launch directors. They work hard to keep Balloon Fiesta safe for everyone while still allowing people to experience the balloons up close.
14. Sensory Sensitivity Suggestions
If you have a child with sensory sensitivities, bring noise-canceling headphones. The flame noises during inflation can be loud and jarring. Also, a sensory activation vehicle (S.A.V.E) by KultureCity will be at Balloon Fiesta. The vehicle provides an opportunity for those with sensory needs to attend and enjoy Balloon Fiesta. It will be located on Main Street during the event. Get more info here.
15. Good to Have Gear
The ground is often wet with rain or dew. So waterproof shoes or boots will keep little toes dry and warm. Also, don’t forget sunglasses because you will want to look up at the balloons as they launch. And by all means, don’t forget the camera. It will be beautiful!
16. Keep an Eye on the Weather
If it’s raining or windy, launches will get canceled or delayed. Check the weather the night before you go and the morning of.
You can avoid the souvenir tent and buy official merchandise online. You can also go to Balloon Fiesta Park the Thursday before the fiesta and purchase merchandise before Balloon Fiesta even begins.
18. Set Everyone’s Expectations
If you have kids, you know expectations are everything. Talk about what to expect. Remind the family about traffic and crowds. But show them pictures to get them excited about what they will see. Also, have a plan B if balloons don’t launch due to weather. Maybe a trip to the zoo, the movie theatre, or an indoor play spot is in order if all doesn’t go as planned.
19. Family Nap Time Is a Must
Don’t plan to do something important during the afternoon or evening after waking up so early. Even big kids and parents are going to want an afternoon nap after a mass ascension.
20. The most important tip of all . . . have fun and make great memories!
ABQ Mom team member, Alyssa Ochs says, “Breathe and mentally prepare yourself in advance to go with the flow and just get out and do it! Don’t get hung up on sleep/nap schedules getting thrown off or the stress of the crowds. This is such an amazing and unique New Mexico tradition that may not be easy in the moment, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run for the memories you’ll make with your kids.”